Posts Tagged ‘economic justice’
by Charles M Young, This Can’t Be Happening
Last March I went to the Left Forum in New York, which is a yearly gathering of liberals, progressives, anarchists, socialists, communists, hippies, punks, mystics, conspiracy theorists and anti-conspiracy theorists who are all trying to figure out how to get to a decent future from the indecent present. Nobody, of course, knows how to do that. There may not even be a path to a decent future from the indecent present, but I always find the Left Forum hopeful because a few thousand people in one place are at least putting their minds to the problem.
The panel discussion I most wanted to see (out of 300 or so) was called “The Crisis That Gives the Capitalist Class Nightmares,” because Michael Hudson was speaking. Whenever Hudson writes something, I read it, because he’s one of a tiny number of economists with academic credentials who predicted the present debt crisis. (Apparently not predicting crises is necessary for tenure in most economic departments these days.) At the panel, he explained that when labor is squeezed to the point that it can’t purchase anything, the capitalist is left with nothing to invest in, except more debt, and so we end up with Wall Street creating ever more complicated, ever more leveraged, ever more worthless junk for its gambling habit. When this collapses, as it must, half the hospitals in Latvia (which Hudson advises) have to shut down for lack of funds.
The next guy to speak was Hillel Ticktin, an emeritus professor of Marxist Studies at the University of Glasgow. Whip smart, grumpy and funny, Ticktin expanded on the theme of “fictitious capital,” as Marx called money made from money with no value added. Ticktin said we had reached the last stage of empire with this humongous array of empty numbers in computers that is our economy and recommended we all read Volume 3 of Capital. Then he closed with a question: “Does the ruling class really want to commit suicide?”
Every time I have watched the news since March, I think back to that question and have an anxiety attack.
Because, yes, the ruling class is trying to commit suicide. In and of itself, this would be a great boon to mankind. Imagine if the ruling class admitted their abject failure to get anything right, and did the honorable thing. Top management at Wall Street, the elite of both major parties, their lobbyists, the big pr firms, the worst hacks of the corporate press, most CEOs and COOs–what if they all just got in a big bathtub, conceded defeat and opened up a vein like Frank Pentangeli in The Godfather II? Who would miss them?
So suicide isn’t the problem, exactly. The problem is that they don’t know they’re trying to kill themselves, and it doesn’t occur to them to behave honorably. The ruling class is not Frank Pentangeli. The ruling class is the husband who is failing at work, having his home foreclosed, his car repossessed, his children are getting humiliated at school because they aren’t wearing the right clothes, the self-help books have failed, the church offers no solace, television won’t acknowledge his existence–so he shoots his wife and four kids and then puts the gun in his mouth.
Thus the problem is murder suicide. The husband wants to kill the only people in his life more powerless than himself, because they are living reminders of his own shame.
Let me spell that out. The ruling class is the husband. Everyone who works in the productive economy is the wife and four kids. The ruling class wants to commit suicide because it has so completely failed and because everything it believes is so obviously wrong. One part of the ruling class brain knows it doesn’t do anything worth doing, and another part of the ruling class brain doesn’t want to be reminded and lives in terror of being exposed. This is called denial. To keep the denial in place, evidence of failure must be destroyed. If you, oh reader, are the living evidence of ruling class failure, it is a dangerous situation.
The ruling class wrecked the economy. That was a stupendous failure, but at least they were wrecking a social construct that deserved wrecking. Organizing labor on the principle that the guy with the most money gets to tell everyone else what to do–how did that come to be considered a good idea? How did that get equated with freedom? Every major religion warns against greed, and somehow most of the United States has come to believe that letting the greedheads run everything is efficient.
That’s so 20th century.
The bigger problem is that the ruling class, in its murder suicide frenzy, is killing nature. Nature is not a social construct. It’s really there. It’s alive. As such, it is too painful for the ruling class to look at, so they are killing it. Anything that reminds them of life, anything that isn’t money, has to go.
It’s a mistake to fetishize all this evil and project it onto BP. BP is one sociopath in a culture of sociopathy. If you read its “plan” for dealing with oil spills in the Gulf, as some enterprising reporters did for the Associated Press , it is a contemptuous joke from beginning to end. It is full of bizarre lies and mistakes. The corporate flunkies who accepted it at the Minerals Management Service should be in prison. The company that wrote it, the company that had no plan whatsoever for dealing with a deep blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, cares about brown pelicans like Joran van der Sloot cares about young women.
The chorus of energy companies denying global warming wasn’t killing nature fast enough for BP, so it invited nature into a hotel room and strangled her.
A prophecy: At some point this summer, a hurricane is going to blow through the Gulf of Mexico. It’s going to drown New Orleans in carcinogenic sludge, again, and a day later it’s going to be raining tar balls on Nashville. People all over the South will go to church and demand that Jesus save them. Jesus will choose this moment to make his return to earth: “Hey, I told you 2000 years ago that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. I told you that the poor are blessed. I told you that as you treat the least of these, you have treated me. That means if you oppress the poor, you oppress me. That means if you drown pelicans in oil, you’re drowning me. But you didn’t read that part of the New Testament. You only read that weird symbolism in the Book of Revelations and argued about nothing while the ruling class destroyed everything. You came to believe that my teachings were somehow consistent with capitalism. I mean, where did you get that from? I’m the guy who threw the money changers out of the temple. You think the money changers of Wall Street are going to save you when the ocean dies? You think I’m going to save you with some kind of rapture and vacuum the believers into heaven? Not a chance. But you do have a choice. You can deal with the ruling class now, or you can burn in a hell of your own creation.”
Read Naomi Wolf’s article. My comments follow the link.
NOTES on the Tea Party – by China Rose
1) AlterNet ain’t very alter. Though the article is oozing with mainstream media assumptions, as least they published this. Maybe someone will learn a thing or two….
Viva Naomi W!
Think of the benefits of manipulating fed-up but undereducated citizens. You can…
2)… approriate and pervert the rhetoric of the American revolution (which, BTW, was against an EMPIRE) to serve America’s corporate masters. MAJOR switcheroo.
3)…turn the emphasis off of certain touchy subjects (the bailout, foreclosures, homelessness, offshoring, job loss, infrastructure meltdown, the demise of public education, posse comitatus. Katrina, Detroit, widespread violation of civil liberties, pollution, factory farming, GMOs, 9-11 and the NWO) and onto one SINGLE issue: the health care fiasco (which d could be easily cured by dismantling, or at least stepping on, Big Pharma and the medical establishment).
4) …make Obama the Hun seem like a “leftist” or “socialist” as he pursues the most aggressively right wing militaristic agenda in US history. An absurd notion beyond all imagining.
5) …funnel all the discontent into Republican party cages.
6)…use racist code words to get the masses riled and rekindle any latent racism. The idea that Obama’s disastrous “leadership” has anything whatsoever to do with race is another corker. Obama’s policies are as white as any other Pres, maybe more so. The original purpose of the race card was to shelter him from any criticism — and it’s working for the Dems and libs. Perhaps the other purpose was to kindle discontent among those who have latent race issues, thus vindicating Obama by default. Provocateurs anyone?
For the record:
1) A goverment run by an elite is an oligarchy
2) A government in which the forces of the military, the government, ‘Big Religion” and corporations are merged to form a new and dangerous creation, and is usually accompanied by corruption (bribes), tyranny (abuse of power) and dictatorship (an abusive chief exective), is known as fascism.
Don’t even think of getting me started on the inane “coffee parties” counterpoint.
“What a tangled web we weave…” et cetera.
Haiti: A Creditor, Not a Debtor
By Naomi Klein, The Nation, February 11, 2010
If we are to believe the G-7 finance ministers, Haiti is on its way to getting something it has deserved for a very long time: full “forgiveness” of its foreign debt. In Port-au-Prince, Haitian economist Camille Chalmers has been watching these developments with cautious optimism. Debt cancellation is a good start, he told Al Jazeera English, but “It’s time to go much further. We have to talk about reparations and restitution for the devastating consequences of debt.” In this telling, the whole idea that Haiti is a debtor needs to be abandoned. Haiti, he argues, is a creditor—and it is we, in the West, who are deeply in arrears.
Our debt to Haiti stems from four main sources: slavery, the US occupation, dictatorship and climate change. These claims are not fantastical, nor are they merely rhetorical. They rest on multiple violations of legal norms and agreements. Here, far too briefly, are highlights of the Haiti case.
§ The Slavery Debt. When Haitians won their independence from France in 1804, they would have had every right to claim reparations from the powers that had profited from three centuries of stolen labor. France, however, was convinced that it was Haitians who had stolen the property of slave owners by refusing to work for free. So in 1825, with a flotilla of war ships stationed off the Haitian coast threatening to re-enslave the former colony, King Charles X came to collect: 90 million gold francs–ten times Haiti’s annual revenue at the time. With no way to refuse, and no way to pay, the young nation was shackled to a debt that would take 122 years to pay off.
In 2003, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, facing a crippling economic embargo, announced that Haiti would sue the French government over that long-ago heist. “Our argument,” Aristide’s former lawyer Ira Kurzban told me, “was that the contract was an invalid agreement because it was based on the threat of re-enslavement at a time when the international community regarded slavery as an evil.” The French government was sufficiently concerned that it sent a mediator to Port-au-Prince to keep the case out of court. In the end, however, its problem was eliminated: while trial preparations were under way, Aristide was toppled from power. The lawsuit disappeared, but for many Haitians the reparations claim lives on.
§ The Dictatorship Debt. From 1957 to 1986, Haiti was ruled by the defiantly kleptocratic Duvalier regime. Unlike the French debt, the case against the Duvaliers made it into several courts, which traced Haitian funds to an elaborate network of Swiss bank accounts and lavish properties. In 1988 Kurzban won a landmark suit against Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier when a US District Court in Miami found that the deposed ruler had “misappropriated more than $504,000,000 from public monies.”
Haitians, of course, are still waiting for their payback–but that was only the beginning of their losses. For more than two decades, the country’s creditors insisted that Haitians honor the huge debts incurred by the Duvaliers, estimated at $844 million, much of it owed to institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. In debt service alone, Haitians have paid out tens of millions every year.
Was it legal for foreign lenders to collect on the Duvalier debts when so much of it was never spent in Haiti? Very likely not. As Cephas Lumina, the United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt, put it to me, “the case of Haiti is one of the best examples of odious debt in the world. On that basis alone the debt should be unconditionally canceled.”
But even if Haiti does see full debt cancellation (a big if), that does not extinguish its right to be compensated for illegal debts already collected.
§ The Climate Debt. Championed by several developing countries at the climate summit in Copenhagen, the case for climate debt is straightforward. Wealthy countries that have so spectacularly failed to address the climate crisis they caused owe a debt to the developing countries that have done little to cause the crisis but are disproportionately facing its effects. In short: the polluter pays. Haiti has a particularly compelling claim. Its contribution to climate change has been negligible; Haiti’s per capita CO2 emissions are just 1 percent of US emissions. Yet Haiti is among the hardest hit countries—according to one index, only Somalia is more vulnerable to climate change.
Haiti’s vulnerability to climate change is not only—or even mostly—because of geography. Yes, it faces increasingly heavy storms. But it is Haiti’s weak infrastructure that turns challenges into disasters and disasters into full-fledged catastrophes. The earthquake, though not linked to climate change, is a prime example. And this is where all those illegal debt payments may yet extract their most devastating cost. Each payment to a foreign creditor was money not spent on a road, a school, an electrical line. And that same illegitimate debt empowered the IMF and World Bank to attach onerous conditions to each new loan, requiring Haiti to deregulate its economy and slash its public sector still further. Failure to comply was met with a punishing aid embargo from 2001 to ’04, the death knell to Haiti’s public sphere.
This history needs to be confronted now, because it threatens to repeat itself. Haiti’s creditors are already using the desperate need for earthquake aid to push for a fivefold increase in garment-sector production, some of the most exploitative jobs in the country. Haitians have no status in these talks, because they are regarded as passive recipients of aid, not full and dignified participants in a process of redress and restitution.
A reckoning with the debts the world owes to Haiti would radically change this poisonous dynamic. This is where the real road to repair begins: by recognizing the right of Haitians to reparations.
[And we’re not even mentioning HAARP here…]
Haiti: The Politics of Rebuilding